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A Glimpse of Paradise: Gold in Islamic Art

October 9, 2010 - April 2011

According to the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, and Hadith, the collected sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, paradise is a lush garden filled with musk-scented streams, channels of milk and honey, and palaces built from gold and silver bricks. The righteous, bedecked with beautiful gold bracelets and silk garments, enjoy delicious foods served by angels from gem-encrusted gold vessels. While gold ornaments and implements are abundant in the afterlife, the wearing and hoarding of gold during one's lifetime is generally cautioned against because it may inspire an impious attachment to extravagances. Royalty of the past nevertheless adorned themselves with luxurious gold-woven textiles and gilded jewelry, perhaps to remind themselves of the rewards waiting in paradise, although these shimmering embellishments also served to show off their wealth and power, a less virtuous benefit.

A Glimpse of Paradise explores the unique status of gold in Islam through a small group of objects drawn from the Museum's collection. The diverse selection includes a fourteenth-century Qur'an folio from Central Asia or Turkey with gold decoration added in India, and a resplendent eagle-shaped pendant made in Iran during the nineteenth century. As these works show, gold has been put to multiple uses in the arts of Islam, serving both as a sign of the divine and as an ornament for earthly pleasure.

Main Building


Yael Rice, Assistant Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art

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